What Comes After the AI Revolution

What does a technological utopia look like? What effect will AI have on work and how we perceive it?

Going back to the industrial revolution, and especially following the invention of the assembly line, machines have taken over more and more human jobs. This is not a bad thing in itself, as there are many jobs better left to machines, because they are too dangerous, disgusting, or repetitive for humans. And of course, machines work faster, increasing profit for businesses adopting them.

Through evolving technology, fewer people have had to do low level work due to increased efficiency and automation and – in theory – have been freed up from the burden of repetitive, awful jobs. Presumably, they also learned more advanced skills for other careers, or they are now simply unemployed. A term, and an assumption, I shall return to later.

The Arrival of Artificial Intelligence

Fast forward several decades from Henry Ford’s assembly lines, and we now face the next step; Industrial Revolution 2.0 – The Era of AI. This next step involves deeper automation through artificial intelligence, and it is already underway. AI is everywhere, and it’s getting smarter every day.

Recently, OpenAI was able to teach itself Dota 2 to the point of beating professional players consistently. This included using feints and other psychological tricks to manipulate its opponent. This is much more advanced than when Deep Blue became the first computer to beat a human chess champion, and it doesn’t require a super computer to run (a Mac or PC running Linux will do).

Through machine learning technology, AIs can not only learn from trial and error, but learn context, find patterns and predict outcomes. This enables it to better sort through all the possible decisions and pick the best one, which it will also learn from, and so on.

I predict that many jobs we now think of as strictly human, will be taken over by AI technology in the next decades. It has already begun in some industries, like software quality assurance, translation, data analysis, even marketing. Pretty much any job that can be reduced to a set of parameters to indicate success, could eventually be handled by AI.

There are obvious industries like logistics – self driving trucks never need sleep, and why not use robots to load and offload said trucks at the warehouse, which is also managed by AI. How about self driving garbage trucks with robots to handle and empty the bins. No humans needed.

Let’s use Board Game Design as a less obvious example – an AI could analyze and play hundreds of games to learn how the systems work. Then compare that data to other data points (sales, reviews, common complaints about games, etc.) to learn good from bad. Finally, based on this data, the AI can design new game systems at a rate no human could ever keep up with, including preliminary playtests. A human editor can adjust the AI parameters if none of the games are that great, and the next day a whole new slew of iterations are ready to test. Add a 3D printer, and it might even make a prototype for you to try.

With this approach, you will get a myriad of products and very little innovation (the AI might accidentally innovate game mechanics, for example, but it would be a side product). Innovation then comes from how humans teach/train the machine.

Bartenders could be replaced by AIs who remembers your name, favorite jokes, drinks and songs on the jukebox – it can even suggest people to talk to, who share your interests, all in a tone of voice that is custom generated to your taste. It will also measure any loss of balance you might display, and cut you off when you’re too drunk. Once we can design them to look cute enough, you won’t care that it’s not a person – you’re not there to see the bartender after all.

Another example of what AI might do in a few years is Movie Editing – an AI can analyze the editing of countless movies and compare cutting techniques with how well different scenes were received. It can learn to adapt to genres and themes, follow the soundtrack, etc. and within a few hours create multiple rough cuts of an entire movie.

Again, you are not likely to see a lot of innovation, and the final cut would likely still need to be tweaked by a human. But the number of hours saved equals considerable cash savings, and we all know that given enough time, even the final edit by a human would be removed in low budget productions. Animated movie? A team of AIs could do the whole thing, from script to edit, even computer generated voice over!

In other words, there are thousands of jobs and career paths that will be changed forever by artificial intelligence and machine learning, exactly like manual labor was changed by early automation and robotics. One major difference is, that the AI revolution will happen at a much faster pace. This leaves us with some questions to consider, and we should consider them sooner rather than later.

Did I mention that Google designed an AI to help them build better neural networks, and now it’s better at it than their own engineers? AIs building AIs better than humans can – it’s a thing.

The Grander Vision

I am a proponent of AI and machine learning; I’ve even played around with it a little for fun. I find myself seeking some deeper answers to where technology could take us as a species. No doubt, there are problems associated with it, but by thinking about long term goals, it becomes easier to fit technology’s place into the bigger picture and hopefully find solutions to those problems.

If technology were to replace 50% of all jobs within 50 years, what do we do with all the unemployed people?

It’s time to rethink what unemployment means. By that, I mean that if the goal of technology is to free humans from doing work they don’t want to do, that in turn must come from wanting to free up our time. In other words, a society where most people are technically unemployed because of successful technological advances is actually the goal!

The problem is, that this goal is in conflict with many building blocks of society, where unemployment is typically associated with failure of some sort (you lack skills, education, experience, have health issues, etc.), and there is a lot of status associated with job titles. But if freedom through automation is achieved, unemployment becomes an expression of that freedom (to pursue your interests).

It also does not mean that people stop working. Most of us like to make things and to feel productive, and this will never change. This is where innovation comes into the picture again. And sure, some people are content to watch movies all day, but if we don’t need to work, why shouldn’t they?

Well, how would they get paid? How would they pay their bills?

This is another realm, where technological advances are in conflict with traditional capitalist thinking, namely that you have to work to earn an honest wage. I challenge that notion. If there is no need to work, no one should have to – but those that want to, should be encouraged and rewarded. And if we can lower production cost of living through technology, money becomes less important.

I am a firm believer in rewarding those that go the extra mile, and even in my imagined tech utopia, that is still a necessary and good component. If you do want to work, you should get rewarded for it – and I think it’s necessary to scale that reward with the contribution made, to keep talented people interested. Note that rewards can come in many forms, not just monetary.

I propose that we use technology to work towards a society where traditional work is voluntary but rewarded, and those who can’t or don’t want to contribute in that way, are able to choose that without poverty or shame. A passion-driven society, where we hand over the boring stuff to machines and use the gains to raise living standards of all, starting with those whose jobs we are eliminating in the process.

Is it just around the corner? No. The day may never come at all. We could continue to drive towards faster, more profitable ways to work without considering the human (or planetary) implications, as we have in the past, but I don’t think that will end well. I prefer the alternative, where we embrace the future but seek to shape it in a way that benefits everyone.

Lessons from a Part Time Job in Retail

IMG_3038After years of freelancing and being a one man company, I took a part time job. It’s three months later and time to share a few observations I have made. The job I have is a relatively simple one – I sell cupcakes and make coffee drinks at Cupcake Royale. It’s a far cry from my previous jobs, doing web projects and media content, photography and consulting, and I expected to have a hard time adjusting. Turns out, I was wrong.

The company itself is a good one, which I’m sure makes a ton of difference. Cupcake Royale is a small, local chain, they treat their employees well without any of that corporate feel (I can bring my iPod to work! Yay!). The people I work with are cool, and in about the same age range as any other job I’ve ever had. I work 4 nights a week, being the weekend closer, and though I’ve missed out on a few social events, it’s really not that big of a deal. The important part is, that I have half days and a 3-day weekend to work on my own projects, as well as continuing to do freelance gigs on the side.

Base Income = Stability

The greatest advantage of having a part time job, is that I am no longer relying on client work. Not only does this allow me to be more picky about the projects/clients I take on, but it gives me breathing room to work on my own projects, such as the sim game I’m making (currently being tested for iPad).

Less Stress, Better Sleep

Besides giving me some freedom to choose, the part time work also takes away a great deal of stress. In the months leading up to taking the job, I was having increasing anxiety, panic attacks and insomnia. All that improved greatly, now that there’s more stability.

Greater Ability to Focus

When I’m at work, I have found that I switch off the things that would otherwise occupy my mind, and just focus on the tasks at hand. This is good for two reasons. First, it gives me a mental break from obsessing over my many projects, and second, it’s a great mental exercise in focusing in on one specific project for a set amount of time, and then move on to the next one.

It also means that I am not checking my email, social media, reddit and news sites every 3 minutes, like I would when I spent my entire day in the home office.

The downside is a much lower pay rate than I’m used to, but I’m okay with that because…

Productivity Went Up

When I do have time off now, I have become more productive than ever, even though more than half my week is spent working for someone else. Part of it is added exercise from standing, walking, crouching, pulling and scrubbing (as opposed to just going for a walk, which was my only regular exercise before). But there is more to it than moving around more, namely a little voice in my head that keeps telling me to make the most of the time I do have. That voice was always there, but it has definitely gotten louder in the last three months.

People Skills Improved

I don’t think of myself as an introvert per se, but I am a terrible sales person. The pitch, in all its many forms, has always seemed awkward and uncomfortable to me (the same can be said for my dating days, and that whole game). When I sell cupcakes, the situation is fairly simple – the person in line is there because they want the product. I greet them and try to get a feel for their personality within a few seconds. Then, depending on what conclusion I reach, I may or may not engage them in either banter, a light compliment – I deliberately try to compliment people that stand out, to get better at it – or perhaps an up-sell of some sort.

By facing my demon multiple times a day, four days a week, I have gotten better at it. I was a bartender in my mid 20s, but I didn’t pick all these things up back then. Maybe I was too busy partying, maybe I just wasn’t ready to absorb. Either way, I quite enjoy having this part time job.

I’m hoping at some point to replace my current position with a better one, but have come to the conclusion that better doesn’t necessarily come down to just higher pay. Right now, I can walk to work, I have a lot of free time, and I don’t take my work home with me — except to eat it. That is worth a lot.

5 Ways to Promote Your Work

This post was originally written for artists, but its contents will apply to many freelancers as well. Whether you’re a writer, an actor, a designer or a band, all those seeking to make a living off their creative work must also take on the daunting task of self promotion. If you don’t, you will more than likely perish in the sea of other creatives working harder at getting seen than you.

Creating great work is essential, but in today’s market it is not enough. You need to be seen.

In the time I ran Another Passion, I interviewed many different artists and creative professionals, and I started to see patterns. Many don’t do a good job of marketing themselves because they either don’t know what they are doing, or have no interest in it (and thus either avoid it or do a half assed job). I’ve written about this topic before, but this time I will offer 5 specific suggestions.

The thing is, promotion should be part of your process no matter what artform you practice. It is not a bad thing, and you don’t have to “sell out” (which I define as pretending to be something you are not, in order to make a buck). But you do have to put in some time, effort and a little structure.

Here are 5 things you should be doing at the very least. Even if you only do three of them, but do them well, you will start building a stronger following of fans, clients and patrons.

1. Email, email, email!

Few things compare to the power of the email list. There are many good sources on how best to use them, and how not to. There are great services like MailChimp who make it easy and let you get started for free.

Email lists are important, because subscribers on your list are typically more than casually interested in what you’re doing. They want to be kept in the loop, and your job is to do just that. Let them know about upcoming events, progress on current projects or those sweet T-shirts you had made. It doesn’t take that much time to put together a decent email once a month to share the latest news – just keep it relevant and short.

2. Get on Twitter

If you’re not on Twitter, you should be. Once you figure out how to use the service, it becomes an amazing tool for both collaboration, networking and marketing. For free. The key is how you approach it, and again the answer is to keep your fans and followers up to speed with what’s going on, share relevant links and stories that relate to the values you stand for. And most importantly, engage with your followers and follow those you admire as well as those who support you. Twitter is all about sharing, so retweet others when they share something relevant or interesting. Have fun with it!

Twitter might not suit your personality, but give it an honest try. You can find me there – I’m @theprint. And if you end up hating Twitter, try taking your efforts to other social media platforms, such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Etsy (find one or two that fits what you do and the people you want to connect with).

3. Attend Events

As awesome as the web is, nothing beats meeting people face to face. The hardest part is finding the right events to attend, meaning that not everything labeled “networking event” will be for your network.

If you’re in the performing arts, think of every performance as potential networking. You never know who’s watching and might be able to help you later, so try to stay open minded, honest and forthcoming.

Seek out conferences that center around what you do, go to launch parties, performances and premieres when others in your network invite you, or just invite someone you admire out for coffee. Get out there!

4. Share!

You may have already noticed that sharing is a recurring theme here. Sharing is key.

What are the thoughts behind your process? What would you like to achieve through your work? Sharing process, progress and pieces of material is a great way to keep your name fresh in people’s mind, and to assert yourself as an authority within your field.

If you’re a writer, share insights into your work, give away a short story for people to sample. If you’re a painter, show us your sketches as well as your final work. If you’re a game designer, give us a demo! You get the idea.

Being personable and engaging will get you attention, but in the end it’s your work that will make you money. Make sure your work is never far away, so those interested can check it out and get in touch. Which leads me to the final point…

5. Stop Reading and Start Producing

Maybe you’re reading this hoping for inspiration, or maybe you’re procrastinating. Almost all of us do this on a regular basis, instead of spending the time and energy on actually producing work. However, at the end of the day it’s the work that counts.

No amount of self-help books and how-to articles is going to make you successful. Only you and the effort you put in can do that, with help from your network – but you have to take the first step and lead the way. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike or some angel patron to pave the way, start producing and shipping right now.